What does it take to lose a 50 mile mountain bike race by 0.16 seconds? It takes so much. So much support and effort on many people’s parts.
The Firecracker 50 is a big event in Breckenridge. It’s held in the midst of the Independence Day celebrations; it forms the start of a carnival style parade through the centre of town. The street is lined on either side by happy, relaxed families out for a day of celebration. It’s a great privilege to get to start off the festivities, and riding through the throng of people whilst ‘high-fiving’ kids of either side of the road is a great experience!
The race had a neutral start for the first 3 miles – a huge contrast to XC style racing that requires eye popping effort from the gun. The pace quickened in a gradual effort until we were cruising up Boreas pass road in a group of 25 people. The first lap formed a huge group that wouldn’t separate, and it made for some good close racing and a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere. I was dismayed to see Thomas Spannring – a long time competitor and token Austrian – lose some spokes to a wayward log in a freak incident very early in. I was expecting punctures all around, but that was annoying to see.
The first big test of the race is Little French Gulch. It’s a 10 minute scree slope climb through pine trees and across glacial streams running off the north side of Mt Guyot. It’s here that the racing started in earnest as Cam Chambers put in a good effort to break up the group of about 15 people. We all strung out along the climb, and not wanting to miss anything, I made sure to move slowly through the group until I could see Cam just ahead. The effort caused a good separation that maintained itself. We finished the first lap down the new ‘flow’ trail towards Carter park, with four people in the group: Bryan Alders, Peter Kalmes, Jamey Driscoll, and me. I grabbed a couple of bottles of Carborocket from Christa and her Mum, and settled in on the road to eat as much as I could. Peter set a blistering pace up the first road section of the climb, and I just dug in and held on, knowing that the pace was really needed to keep the other rider at bay who were just behind us. This effort kept our group together and at the top of Boreas pass, the four of us were still together. The next challenge was Little French Gulch, once again. This seemed like the only point in the race were I could get any seperation, so I chose it to ramp up the effort. I knew it’s hard to ride anything but “full gas” up the climb, so it felt like a good place to see who would come with me. No one did. It was a risk, as there were still almost 15 miles of racing left, but I had no choice at that point but to commit to my move. The undulating terrain from the top of little french provided no respite, and I could feel my legs getting closer to cramping with each pedal stroke. I finally had to start thinking about damage limitation, rather than an all out effort to the line.
With little chance of getting people to all the feed zones scattered in the hills, I relied on the neutral bottles handed up by volunteers. These were filled with Gatorade, which is electrolyte free. It was an oversight that I shouldn’t have overseen, especially because I know I cramp so easily. Without Carborocket, I was struggling, and could feel Jamey Driscoll reeling me in.
The last aid station came five miles from the finish. I looked back to the inevitable sign of Jamey right on my wheel. I started the switchbacking climb and felt Jamey glide by me on a straight section. I grasped for his rear tyre as he pedalled on by, and the motivation of seeing him in front of me was enough to dig deeper. Pedalling through cramps is one of the most horrible experiences, but I dealt with it. Over the top of the climb, Jamey had a maximum of three seconds on me which I closed quickly. We were dodging back-markers left and right – these are the people who were finishing up their first lap in the time it had taken us to do two. Down the last switchbacks there was almost nothing I could do to get by – I tried in every turn to find a shorter line to the bottom, but Jamey’s experience showed through, and I was left coming into the home straight on his wheel.
I gave it everything in the first pedal strokes out of that corner. My bike responded and I seemed to come up on Jameys left side quickly. That’s when I pulled my right foot out of the pedal (similarly to in Missoula), and lost just enough momentum to stay behind Jamey. Second place.
I said, right after the race, that in a couple of days I would be happy with a hard fought battle. I thought the sting of losing so narrowly would fade. But I was wrong. I’m really disappointed to not win. It would have been a great event to add to my resume, and something I would have really cherished going forward. As it is, I’ve been replaying the events in my mind on every ride for the last week. It’s burning inside me. It’s motivation. I’m really looking forward to coming back much stronger. Strong enough that there will be no sprint finish, and no doubt whatsoever about who won.